A PERFECT CRIME
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
A detective walks into a practically empty bar and sees a man slumped on the counter. A knife protrudes from his back and blood oozes from the wound. There are two glasses on the bar. One sits in front of the dead man, the other has a lipstick smear on its rim. A burly bartender stands quietly behind the bar wiping a glass.
“You know anything about this?” the detective asks pointing to the dead man.
“Dead guy and his friend were writers. They started drinking and his friend suddenly stood up and pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he left.”
“A gun?” the detective asks. “But what about this knife in his back?”
“He came in with that. Said he’d been backstabbed so many times he couldn’t count them anymore, but the pain was definitely getting worse.”
The detective scratched his head. “So, his death was caused by a bullet. You said the friend who shot him was a man. So, what’s with the lipstick on the glass?”
The bartender shrugged. “I think it was supposed to be symbolic.”
“I don’t get it,” the detective said.
The bartender leaned close and whispered, “They’re literary authors.”
The short mystery story is like a well-told joke. There is a set-up followed by a series of seemingly innocent statements that should clue us into what comes next. But if it’s a good joke, the punch line should never be expected until it’s revealed and then it seems the only possible ending to “the story.”
In a mystery, the setup is usually the crime or a puzzle to solve. The clues follow, but hopefully, are carefully placed so as not to be too obvious. Toss in a few red herrings to throw the sleuth off the trail. The payoff of the detective finding the true criminal is delivered at just the right time for maximum effect. Once the solution is revealed, like a punch line, it’s time to end the routine and the story. The ending of both the joke and the mystery should be satisfying and leaving the audience feeling good.
For the comedian, the audience needs a reason to laugh, applaud and want more. For the writer, his reader also wants satisfaction that his time reading was well-spent so that he’ll want to return to the writer’s next work.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep my affair with Ron a secret from my husband,”said Britney.
“Is he suspicious?” Barbie asked.
Britney frowned. “I don’t think so. I think he’s from Cleveland.”
“I mean, does he think you aren’t being faithful?”
Britney sighed. “Well, he seemed pretty upset to find Ron in our shower.”
“Your husband caught another man in your shower?”
Britney laughed. “Oh, you silly girl! Ron wasn’t with another man in my shower. It was just me.”
It’s nice when comedy and mystery collide. Characters like Monk, Columbo, and the guys from Psych keep us laughing while they solve mysteries. It takes precision to get it right, but when the writers do, it’s like a perfect crime that just got better.